Inclusion Professionals Brenda Ward (pictured) and Michelle Wood won a 2021 Victorian Early Years Award. We asked them about the program in this Q&A.

Brenda and Michelle, from the Victorian Inclusion Agency, established a Community of Practice initiative to help build the capacity of early years services to include children and families from refugee backgrounds. In recognition of their contributions and achievements in improving outcomes, the initiative was awarded a 2021 Victorian Early Years Award in the ‘Creating Collaborative Community Partnerships’ category.

What does expanding language mean to you personally?

Over a period of 18 months, we partnered with Foundation House, a specialist refugee trauma agency, and Melton City Council to establish a Melton Area Managers Community of Practice group. The aim of the group was to support early years services in the City of Melton to address barriers to inclusion for children and families from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds.

The group allowed Area Managers to network and collaborate with their peers across organisations on processes and practices to directly support their services to gain a deeper understanding of the unique needs experienced by children and families from refugee backgrounds and to support their inclusion.

The Area Managers used community profiles and demographic information to highlight key culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in each service’s region; referred services to relevant local stakeholders and resources including Innovative Solutions funding; supported educators’ lack of knowledge and confidence around including children and families from CALD, refugee and humanitarian backgrounds; and discussed strategies and actions around inclusive practices for these groups.

What was the impact on the children, families and communities involved?

Prior to the Community of Practice initiative, early childhood services reported low confidence in their capacity to successfully include children from refugee backgrounds, despite Melton's high population of refugee families. Processes that were effective in supporting vulnerable families were not successful in supporting children and families from these backgrounds.

By working through a successful, multi-faceted response to address educational and settlement needs, the approach dramatically improved the attendance and enrolment of children and families from refugee background in early years services.

In addition, outcomes for children and families significantly improved relating to areas that were promoted including building partnerships with families, promoting multilingualism, working with interpreters to support families, supporting children and families experiencing vulnerability during COVID-19, and implementing Innovative Solutions funding cases to address further barriers to inclusion.

What is the future of the initiative?

Area Managers involved in the initiative continue to meet three times a year to network and support each other, share ideas and resources, establish consistent practices, and explore systemic issues and solutions to improve the wellbeing of children and families from refugee backgrounds to be included in early years services.